Classical Music

Anna Clyne's Rewind Topped an Asymmetrical Opening Weekend at The FWSO

This last weekend marked the opening of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra's 2014-2015 classical season. Saturday evening kicked off with an honorary video commemorating musical director Miguel Harth-Bedoya's 15th season with the FWSO, followed by a short talk with new composer-in-residence Anna Clyne (on her composition Rewind) and the National Anthem. At this point, the audience had been seated quietly, with intermittent applause, for what felt like forty-five minutes. Clyne's Rewind opened the program, and it was just the sort of shake-up this audience member needed.

"Inspired by the image of analog video tape rapidly scrolling backwards with fleeting moments of skipping freezing, and warping," Rewind is a piece originally composed for orchestra and tape; it's not the type of composition you traditionally see open a classical season in DFW. In what might be an unpopular move, I've chosen to focus my efforts on Rewind; surely Beethoven's Triple Concerto and the closing Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 will receive plenty of attention elsewhere.

Not everyone was on board for 21st century sounds, however. There was a particularly disgruntled brood of skeptics seated just behind me. Here's some of what they said:

  • (Just before it began) "I hate this already."
  • "What does that title mean, anyway" (recall, Clyne had just discussed this).
  • "JESUS! Why...why, what is this?
  • (Referring to Clyne) "She thinks she's sooo academic" (imagine a long, shrill southern drawl).
  • "This is what New York City traffic jams sound like."
  • "This feels good, tickles" (OK, that one was me).

To be fair, they seemed to have similar issues with my haircut; I believe the phrase was "too much."

I imagine it's not a stretch to assume these friendlies came for the Beethoven. Not to compare the two composers by any stretch, but just for the sake of reference (and for kicks), here's some of what was said about Beethoven and his music during his own time:

  • "Ripe for the madhouse"
  • (Concerning The Second Symphony) "A gross enormity, an immense wounded snake, unwilling to die, but writhing in its last agonies."
  • "Grotesque melodies."
  • "Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer."
  • (On The Ninth) "I had great difficulty in keeping awake...a concert made up of Indian warwhoops and angry wildcats."

Rewind was a visceral and most satisfying eight minutes. (Though for a moment there, I was put off by an oddly chosen needle-like hiss, turns out it was just a robust hearing-aid (mal)functioning a few rows ahead). The music began with an ominous bowing sound, like the air itself was bending. Plump with frenzied churns, 180 degree turns and prickly pulsations, Rewind was raw and turbulent, full of short bursts buttressed by eerily empty respites. Locked in states of swelling and contracting, the composition was dramatic from start to finish. With a little bit of effort, you could even hear the analog video connection Clyne had mentioned, though images of imbalanced romance and fevered violence more readily found their way into my head.

A thoughtful and ambitious composer who derives inspiration from sources as disparate as literature, psychology, personal loss and antiquated audio-visual technology, Clyne is a most welcome addition to the FWSO. But don't misunderstand me, Rewind is by no means a groundbreaking work (though it's certainly exciting). Its motions and ideas were set in stone long ago. But without a doubt, the chance to hear a work like this in our own backyard was an opportunity I won't soon forget. For better or worse, it's an experience I imagine the rest of the audience won't soon forget either.

My only complaint, apart from the absence of Rewind's tape component, would be the hall's volume. But this was an issue all evening. The Triple Concerto, to my ears, suffered also, sounding conservative as a result--I could just barely make out the cello. Also, and this might be unrelated, but I think I saw a violist fall asleep.

In the aftermath of The Triple Concerto, I couldn't help but think back to the moments just before it was performed, when they wheeled in the big lumbering grand piano. And how now, with the reserved flavor of the performance in mind, it felt like the entrance of a giant black casket.

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Jonathan Patrick